Bernie Bytes: 5 ways Rams must improve

BY BERNIE MIKLASZ
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Along with Oakland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, the Rams are among the league's surprise teams at 4-4. Those four teams, who went a combined 13-52 last season, have accelerated into postseason contention.

The Rams are doing many things well ... but they can do better, especially on offense. And here are five areas of improvement we'd like to see in the second half of the Rams' 2010 season. As with any team, there are more than five spots that need to be spruced up. But I'm going to mention my five, and you can jump in with your thoughts and add some points that I didn't cover. I didn't go with "Win on the Road" because that's too obvious. The Rame have to get two or three wins in the road column or they'll have little chance to capture the NFC West.

Here goes:

1. Running the football: We got into this subject in Tuesday's 'Bytes' so I apologize for mentioning it again so soon. But it's an important area. The Rams are averaging only 3.6 yards per carry this season, which ranks 27th among the 32 NFL teams. But this is the Rams' 16th season in St. Louis. That rate of 3.6 yards per is tied for the 12th among the the 16 Rams teams. The Rams are averaging only 3.0 yards per carry in the 2nd half of games, which ranks 31st among the 32 teams. So much of the Rams' offensive success flows from a bullish running game. It sets up play-action passes for QB Sam Bradford, keeps the team out of 2nd down and longs, keeps the defense from teeing off on Bradford. Sustaining consistent success on the ground has been a challenge for a Rams O-line that's encountering a lot of eight-man fronts.

Which leads us to ...

2. Find a way to be more productive in the 2nd half: The Rans rank 9th in the NFL in first-half yardage and they are tied for 15th in first-half points scored. In the second half? Different story. Different game. They're 31st in points, 30th in yards. Steven Jackson averages 4.6 yards per rush in the 1st half and only 3.2 yards per carry in the 2nd half. In the 1st half Sam Bradford has completed 63 percent of his passes with 8 TDs and 3 INTs and a rating of 89.1. But in the 2nd half the numbers drop dramatically: 53.7 percent, 3 TDs, 5 INT and a rating of 60.4. The same players are on the field. The Rams' coaches have to come up with something to keep this offense moving.

3. Strike more often in the Red Zone: The Rams are 30th among 32 teams in the percentage of cashing in for TDs after entering the red zone. They've had 30 red-zone series. They've scored 11 TDs, or 36.7 percent. In overall scoring -- field goals added in -- the Rams have come away with points 76.7 percent of the time, which ranks 26th out of 32. All things considered, Bradford has done pretty in the red zone. We'd like to see a higher completion percentage (he's at 51.2 percent in th RZ) but he has 8 TDs and only 1 INT. A problem: pass protection. The Rams have been good overall in this area, but five of their 17 sacks allowed on the season have come in the RZ. More than anything -- and here we go again -- running the ball inside the 20 has proven to be problematic for the Rams. Jackson ranks 39th in the NFL with an average of 1.7 yards per carry in the red zone. Jackson has one red-zone TD, same as Kenneth Darby.

4. Make some big plays on the special teams: The Rams don't get much juice from their return game. The punt returns are decent enough; they rank 11th in the NFL with an average of 9.9 yards. That's fine. But it doesn't present much danger. That's even more true with the kickoff returns. The Rams rank 26th of 32 teams with an average of 20.8 yards per KOR. Their longest KOR is only 36 yards. Obviously, this impacts field position; the Rams' average starting point after a kickoff return is the 25-yard line, which ranks 21st among the 32.

5. Accept the gifts when offered to you: how many interceptions have the Rams dropped? At least 10. Maybe more. The team is a +3 in the turnover ratio. That's good. But gosh ... imagine what that ratio would look like if the DBs and LBs had been able to catch the ball when opposing QB put it in a gift bag for them.

About the only other thing I'd say about the Rams defense is this: it would be nice if they could reduce the number of runs that go for 10+ yards. The Rams rank 22nd in the league in percentage of runs against them that gain 10 or more yards.

Again ... there are other things. I'll tell you a big one that I'll get into tomorrow: the Rams offense is pretty bad on first down. I don't know why, but it's glaring.

Other thoughts: Bradford can be more accurate. The receivers can cut down on their drops. HC Steve Spagnuolo can be more efficient in game management. A little more heat from the pass rush. More utilization of the tight ends in the passing game. But I just wanted to highlight a few areas. Feel free to jump in and add to the list. Thanks.

-B